July: Oregon Odds and Ends
Want to learn about Oregon History every day? Like The OE Facebook and Twitter pages to see our daily history posts.
The Civil War brought political trouble for Oregon’s Southern-sympathizing Democrats, and Republicans in Douglas County had control of the courthouse. On December 25, 1866, Samuel Culver, John Fitzhugh—the young, pro-South leader of local Democrats—and three other men, all likely inebriated and definitely armed, curtailed their Christmas libations at Goode’s Mill and rode through the dark to the Unionists’ dance at Joseph Champagne’s house in French Settlement, near Roseburg. Fitzhugh and his kin, like other pro-slavery Democrats in the region, had been inflamed by accusations of disloyalty, even “treason,” from local Republican politicians and editors. Uninvited and unwelcome at the dance, the five men soon made their hostile intent evident by refusing to remove their hats and “dancing in an insulting manner.” Culver hit Bennett across the face with a revolver. Pulling out his derringer, Fitzhugh fatally shot the dance-floor manager. During the brawl, one of Fitzhugh’s companions was shot to death, and several men suffered knife wounds.
On November 9, 1970, a forty-five-foot, eight-ton sperm whale washed ashore near Florence. In addition to the stench and the possibility that the body would burst, local officials were concerned that people curious about the carcass might climb on it and fall in. The Oregon State Highway Division was called in to remove the whale. After consulting with U.S. Navy and munitions experts, Assistant District Highway Engineer George Thornton decided to treat the carcass as a boulder and to use dynamite to dislodge it.
In 2014, McMinnville’s annual Turkey Rama marked its fifty-third anniversary. Unique in the nation, the event celebrates Yamhill County’s turkey industry, which in 1986 accounted for more than 90 percent of Oregon’s turkey production. McMinnville hosted the first Pacific Coast Turkey Exhibit in 1938, a one-day affair with activities and prizes. Each year, the top turkey breeders were recognized, and there was a competition for who had raised the biggest and best turkeys. By the late 1940s, the Turkey Exhibit was one of the largest industry celebrations in the nation.
Voodoo Doughnut is an independently owned business in Portland and Eugene known for its off-kilter concoctions and unusual business philosophies. Owners Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon opened the flagship store in 2003 on Southwest Third Avenue in Old Town Portland. A second store, Voodoo Doughnut Too, is located on Northeast Davis Street, and Voodoo Doughnut Tres opened in Eugene on East Broadway in June 2010. A fourth store opened in Denver, Colorado, in 2013. The original store is located in Portland’s old Skid Row near West Burnside. From the start, the shop was open all night, attracting bar-goers after last call who lined up on Third Street to buy doughnuts with names like the Voodoo Doll, the Dirt Doughnut, and the Old Dirty Bastard. Pogson and Shannon, having taken a crash-course in doughnut-making in southern California, experimented with ingredients such as breakfast cereal, Tang, bacon, peanut butter, and crushed Tums. The city health inspectors stopped the sale of Voodoo products containing over-the-counter medications.
In 1852, Nimrod O'Kelly was convicted of murder in Oregon in the first officially recorded homicide case before the Oregon Supreme Court. At the age of sixty-five, O'Kelly came to Oregon on the Overland Trail in 1845 and staked a one-square-mile land claim in the heart of the Willamette Valley. On May 13, 1852, he shot and killed Jeremiah Mahoney in a quarrel over boundaries. He was found guilty of first-degree homicide despite his pleas of self-defense and defense of property and was sentenced to be hanged. O'Kelly went to the gallows three times: the third execution was canceled by Governor John Wesley Davis, who commuted the sentence to two years imprisonment. The seventy-four-year-old O'Kelly, without guard, voluntarily reported to the Oregon territorial penitentiary in Portland.
In 1911, a delegation of ten businessmen represented Portland at Seattle's Golden Potlatch Festival. On the train ride home, the men agreed that Portland needed an official body to promote the Portland Rose Festival, and Portland in general. About a hundred men responded to the invitation to become Royal Rosarians. The organization's mythical traditions, including annual knighting ceremonies at the International Rose Test Garden, are inspired by English history. The group makes its largest public appearance at the annual Grand Floral Parade. Much of the pomp and pageantry of Rose Festival is due to the efforts of the Rosarians. They march alongside each float for the length of the parade route and serve as escorts for the Queen of Rosaria and her court.
In all of American history, only two states have been formed from older states that were already admitted to the Union: Maine (from Massachusetts, in 1820) and West Virginia, during the Civil War. In 1941, however, some residents of northernmost California and southwestern Oregon promoted the idea of a separate state. Believing that their largely rural region was not receiving its fair share of federal defense and state public-works money, their publicity-seeking "secession" movement gathered steam to form a forty-ninth state, the State of Jefferson.
The Port Orford Meteorite has captured the imagination of Oregonians for well over a century. Although the meteorite remains an object of speculation, the scientific consensus is that the “find” was a hoax. Nevertheless, the persistence of the meteorite story has become a part of Oregon history. In 1856, the U.S. Department of the Interior hired John Evans to conduct a geological reconnaissance of southwestern Oregon. Starting at Port Orford and traveling northeast through reportedly rugged terrain, Evans reached the Willamette River, collecting specimens. He donated to the Boston Society of Natural History in 1859. While examining Evans’s collection, Harvard chemist Charles Jackson found that several of the small specimens were fragments of a pallasite, an extremely rare type of meteorite. Evans reported hat he had hammered off pieces of rock from a partially buried boulder that lay exposed on a grassy slope near the summit of a place he called Bald Mountain, about forty miles from the coast. Roy Clarke, a geologist at the Smithsonian, concluded that Evans’s samples are actually from the Imilac meteorite field in the Atacama Desert of coastal Chile and that Evans’s claim was a hoax.
Critical Mass is a monthly event that asserts bicyclists' right to ride in the streets and celebrates the bicycle as a form of transportation. The idea is for riders to take over city streets, with anywhere from a handful of cyclists to hundreds participating. In Oregon, the phenomenon is concentrated in the cities of Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis; however, rides have taken place in other cities, including Beaverton and Bend.
During the war-hot summer of 1970, thousands of young people began streaming toward Clackamas County's Milo McIver State Park to attend Vortex I, a state-sponsored rock-music festival. Ed Westerdahl, chief of staff to Governor Tom McCall, had selected the 847-acre site, some thirty miles southeast of Portland. The park provided all the advantages that Westerdahl sought—a rural setting, proximity to Portland, and easy driving distance from Interstate 5. The festival was strategically planned to attract young anti-Vietnam war protestors who otherwise might descend on Portland to disrupt the American Legion's annual convention, which would begin on Sunday, August 30.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a spiritual teacher who developed a substantial international following in Pune, India, decided in 1981 to relocate to the United States. He and his chief lieutenant, Ma Anand Sheela, visited the 64,000-acre Muddy Ranch in southern Wasco County and decided that it was the perfect place for their planned community. Within two years, the community had roughly 7,000 residents and the appurtenances of a regular town, including a water system and a police force. Oregonians greeted the development with much bemusement, some support, and rapidly growing distaste. The last sentiment was exacerbated by the in-your-face attitude of many adherents, their largely successful efforts to close the community to the press, their increasingly prominent displays of weaponry, and the Bhagwan's apparent self-indulgence in the form of dozens of Rolls Royce automobiles. The settlement appeared to outsiders to be an uncomfortable mixture of serious religious community, manipulative cult, and a big summer camp for adults.
Buster Keaton's masterpiece and one of the greatest silent movies of all time was filmed in the Cottage Grove area in the summer of 1926. The General is a Civil War tale, the fictionalized account of an attempted hijacking of a Confederate train called the General by Union spies in 1862. Much of The General was shot east of Cottage Grove on the rail lines belonging to the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad. Chase scenes, sometimes involving three trains, were filmed by a camera mounted on a flatcar running on parallel tracks. The climactic scene in the movie required the construction of a 215-foot trestle bridge across the Row River, near the tiny community of Culp Creek. In the film, the hero, Johnny Gray, sets the bridge on fire after he crosses it in the General, and the pursuing train, the Texas, crashes into the Row River in a spectacular fiery collapse. The scene cost an estimated $42,000 to shoot and is said to be the most expensive scene in silent film history.
The first steam locomotive in the Pacific Northwest—the "Oregon Pony"—was used in the early 1860s to portage steamboat passengers and goods past the Cascade Rapids, a rocky and turbulent stretch of the Columbia River now drowned by Bonneville Dam. Steamboats provided transportation on the Columbia between Portland and mining areas in Idaho and the Columbia Plateau.San Francisco's Vulcan Iron Works built the little wood-burning engine, only 14.5 feet long, which arrived in Oregon in 1862. It replaced the horses and mules that pulled small rail cars 4.5 miles over iron-reinforced wooden rails for the Oregon Portage Railway.